It has been a while since I've been a die-hard of any one player in the NBA. The 2012 NBA finals led me to pull for the Durant/Westbrook duo, and once Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State, it was easy to single out Westbrook as my favorite player. But, of course, being that the Charlotte Hornets were just a ten-minute train ride away when Kemba Walker started making a name for himself, I had another player I was an actual die-hard of.
The offseason of 2019 threw a dagger into my heart. Russell Westbrook had requested a trade and landed with the Houston Rockets, and the Hornets refused to pay Kemba Walker what he wanted, so he went on to sign with the Boston Celtics. It was difficult for me to follow Kemba to Boston because it's Boston. Nothing against the city. Since I'm from North Carolina, it isn't easy to root for a team based in New England. Westbrook was a little different because he joined forces with James Harden in Houston, so it was like getting a taste of the 2012 NBA Championship Thunder. But the seasons passed, and Westbrook found himself in Washington D.C. before landing with Lebron and the Lakers. Anybody who keeps up with my articles knows I will admire Lebron's greatness, but I will not root for him.
So, for three years, I haven't really had a single player that I've been drawn to. Miles Bridges filled the void for some time, but I have to reevaluate with him likely out of Charlotte this offseason. However, one player has been on my radar for some time now. After signing a four-year extension, performing exceptionally in his first four seasons, and playing for one of my two teams, I can safely say Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has filled the void left by Kemba and Russell.
Since Billy Donovan and Westbrook left Oklahoma City, the Thunder have struggled to get wins on the board. But the soon-to-be 24-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been that glimmer of hope the team needs. Though just 24 years old, nine other players are younger than he is on the team, and he is already playing at a veteran level, putting up 24.5 PPG, 5 RPG, and 5.9 APG last season.
Oklahoma City trust Shai to be the team's #1 player for years to come. Over the next five years, Gilgeous-Alexander will average $35.38m a year. Between now and the end of his contract, the Thunder have 13 first-round draft picks to play around with. I suspect Oklahoma City will use a handful of those picks to pick up a right-hand man for SGA.
I also suspect they will do as the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors did to get themselves a championship the last two years. The Bucks and Warriors have drafted their core and developed them into a championship-winning team. Over the next few years, Oklahoma City has the perfect opportunity to accomplish this. Adding players like Tre Mann, Josh Giddey, Chet Holmgren, and Jalen Williams is a good start.
The next few years for Oklahoma City may be a struggle. But I believe the team knows what to do with all this cap space and draft picks they have in the future. SGA has been given the keys to an Oklahoma City Thunder team with more potential than any other team in the Association. These next five years will be fun to watch for Oklahoma City Fans.